By Liz Matakevich - Shore Sports Network contributor

St. Rose's girls soccer team is all too familiar with making it to the final stage in the NJSIAA Non-Public B playoffs, reaching the championship game in three of the last four years. Two of those match-ups have been against perennial power Morris Catholic, which again proved to be a formidable obstacle for the Purple Roses on Wednesday.

St. Rose had its hands full early as the Crusaders netted two goals in the first six minutes and went on to defeat the Purple Roses 3-1 for their second straight win over them in the Non-Public B final and their 14th state title overall. Morris Catholic beat St. Rose 1-0 in last year's championship game.

The St. Rose girls soccer team battled the entire way but came up short against Morris Catholic in the Non-Public B championship game for the second straight season in a 3-1 loss. (Photo by Liz Matakevich)

"It was a non-stop fight between both teams for the entire 80 minutes," St. Rose head coach Mike Parshelunis said. "Regardless of the score, to even pump in one goal was great to see."

The Crusaders began to change the tempo of the game right away in the fourth minute off a free kick right outside the box.Taylor Shannahan blasted the ball from 10 yards out as St. Rose goalkeeper Jordan Nash reached up to grab the ball, but it slipped out of her hands into the net as she fell backwards. Sam Garzon, who has been hot for Morris Catholic this entire postseason with nine goals in nine games, scored her ninth in the 6th minute as she tore through two defenders and tapped it in past Nash.

The Purple Roses could have given up after Morris Catholic took the early 2-0 lead, but they began to knock on their opponent's door soon after the goal deficit.

"We fought to the very end," St. Rose senior forward Lauren Gates said. "Usually when teams go down two-nothing, they just put their heads down, but our team picked our heads right up and kept fighting until the end."

In the 8th minute, Shannon Burns struck the ball from the top of the 18, nicking the crossbar before it went out of bounds. Seneca Kinn-Gurzo blasted the ball from 25 yards out in the 18th minute, with the ball curling just over the crossbar and out of bounds in similar fashion.

Gates had two attempts to close in on Morris Catholic towards the end of the first half, getting a shot off in the 36th minute that went over the net and again in the 37th when Gates broke through to the front of the net where Morris Catholic goalkeeper Jeannie Kivlon was caught off guard, but Gates' shot would go flying over the net once more.

"It came down to finishing," Parshelunis said. "We had plenty of chances to score. They were able to finish, and we didn't, which is painful."

The Crusaders would add an insurance goal during the second half in the 43rd minute when Sarah Racine dribbled through traffic and passed the ball upfield to Stella Johnson, who had only Nash between her and the net as she faked her out to the left and tapped it in on the right.

The Purple Roses continued to fight back against the physical Crusaders, as Gates was able to put her team on the scoreboard in the 54th minute. Kinn-Gurzo passed the ball in the air towards the senior, who was bee-lining to the net, where she tapped the ball past Kivlon to score the team's lone goal.

"Right after that third goal by them we all knew we just had to go and play hard," Gates said. "We could have scored four goals easily, especially with the way we were playing at the end."

Despite putting pressure on Morris Catholic's defense, the Purple Roses could not come up with another goal in the second to end their brilliant season.

"Hopefully this game leaves a poor enough taste in the underclassmen's mouth to get back here next year," Parshelunis said.

"I think this program is going to soar from this point on," Gates said. "We're going to be back here a lot more."